The recent rise of popularity in tennis is a positive sign for the future of the sport. As interest in the game increases, our main role as facilitators (parent or coach) is to create a welcoming environment that promotes life-long participation and enjoyment at both competitive and recreational levels. In order to spark engagement and commitment, I would like to share a few time-tested tips that can help any player become an ultimate tennis superhero.
Get to know your players
How can we help someone if we don’t know who they are? Our job is to understand our players right from the very first interaction we have with them. This starts by getting to know their cognitive abilities, maturity levels, coordinative skills, goals, and why they came to play in the first place. We can't assume that learners will always understand what the task is at hand. Each participant has its own preferred style of learning. At the beginner level, it is predominantly visual, verbal, or kinesthetic. We must adapt to meet their needs. Overloading them with too much information or using the wrong approach will only hinder the developmental process. When we recognize these critical factors, everything else down the road becomes more efficient.
Set up a positive environment
Prior to playing or taking their very first lesson, it doesn’t hurt to expose the individual to watching a match on television, or even attending a live event. Gifting them basic tennis gear, uniforms and shoes can also go a long way. After all, even superheroes have cool outfits!
If we were to ask them to solve a thousand-piece puzzle without ever showing them the photo on the cover, it may never be completed, let alone started in the first place. That is why keeping the bigger picture in view helps your player shape and maintain a healthy perspective for years to come. Once they have decided to give tennis a try, every activity should be carried out with high levels of excitement and maximum effort. Let’s keep in mind that most learners, especially at early stages of development, get a majority of their engagement and passion through us. Our example is contagious. We need to act as role models at all times. Our number one mission is to develop their confidence and the love for the sport.
Focus on the basics
Tennis is an open skill sport, therefore on every shot, a player must decide where to move, what shot to hit, and where to recover while awaiting the opponent’s next response. In other words, adaptation is critical to playing the game effectively.
Before any of these actions can be performed in the optimal sequence, a player must first develop overall athleticism and acquire the basic fundamental movement, motor, and sports skills. This starts with simple exercises such as catching, throwing, tracking, tapping, running and jumping. Rushing into tennis specific development, especially when using a model-based approach to teaching strokes, greatly impedes the development of open skills. Situational learning matters, but a player must know what they are trying to do before learning how to do it!
Tennis is an activity for a lifetime. By starting with the right foundation, creating a long-term pathway and making the game enjoyable to the participant, we can significantly increase a player’s longevity in the sport.
We should always remember that Fun = Love = Passion = Success!
Tal Sosnov is a coach for CourtSense and the Head Tennis Pro at Alpine Country Club in Alpine, N.J. A native of Israel, Sosnov was educated at the renowned Wingate National Sports Institute. He is recognized by the ITF as an Advanced Coach with expertise in advanced biomechanics and technique, tactics, teaching methodology, physical training and applied psychology for tennis.